Monday, 20 July 2015

380. Fresh Hare (1942)

starring BUGS BUNNY
Warner cartoon no. 379.
Release date: August 22, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny), Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd), Sportsmen Quartet (Dixie singers) - (Thanks Keith Scott).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Manuel Perez.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Elmer Fudd, playing a mountie, takes the opportunity to hunt down a wanted Bugs Bunny.

Like with a lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons, the writers take advantage of having Bugs being featured at different scenic locations for each, Bugs is based at the north, with Elmer Fudd playing a mountie. Seems a rather fitting combination.

From the opening short, it's identified that Bugs Bunny is a wanted criminal, hence the wanted poster. Elmer Fudd sees this as an advantage as his goal set for the entire cartoon is to hunt down Bugs. He comments: "At wast, the wong arm of the war is tweaching out and cwosing in on you. You screwy wabbit!"

The following shot is a real footage-eater, as for almost a solid thirty seconds, you see no animation footage: just sign gags. The camera pans as it follows Bugs' footsteps. The camera stops, pans up a tree featuring a wanted sign poster. This vaguely tells us Bugs had doodled over the wanted poster, to hide his identity: including a Hitler disguise.

A rather sneaky gag is inserted, where Bugs' footsteps stops as he looks at a poster of an attractive woman representing a fictional magazine, Mounted Police Gazette. Then the scene pans to a Hitler-disguised Bugs in the poster. It seems rather unfitting for Oh You Beautiful Doll to be heard in the underscore of the Hitler disguise. Perhaps because it's been hampered by the slow tempo in Carl Stalling's music.

The following sequence, on the other hand, suffers from sluggish pacing: which is uncommon for Freleng's tastes. The pace suffers from the start of the scene of Bugs' hands reaching for the carrot: a replica from earlier cartoons A Wild Hare and All This and Rabbit Stew.

Elmer plants a carrot, where Bugs' hands have an unusual sense. The scene of Bugs feeling the cold from the snow, and using miniature sized tennis racks to retrieve the carrot has a nice charm to it. The pacing seems slower when Elmer cuffs Bugs at the scene: causing Bugs to slowly identify Elmer's features before he takes.

After a brief scuffle, Bugs quickly replaces his arm on the cuff with a bomb. Afraid, Elmer frantically searches for his keys, screaming: "My keys! Where are my keys?" Notice there is an animator switch on the scene, considering that Bugs and Elmer are animated on two separate levels.

Gerry Chiniquy started the sequence up to Elmer's panic over the bomb, but as the camera pans to Bugs Bunny: the scene switches to Dick Bickenbach. It's revealed Bugs has the keys, and in no rush begins to search for the right key. He comments on Elmer's panicking behaviour, "Gee, he's an excitable type", and slowly looks over the different kinds of keys attached to a hook. Bugs' dialogue adds to the fun of the scene, as he carefully looks at each key: "the garage, the car, for the front door, etc". Note his little cheeky whistle when he sees another key, of course: the subtlety of the gag left to the audience's interpretation. As he finds the right key, it's too late: the bomb detonates. The effects animation of the explosion effects reflecting Bugs are very elegant.

As Bugs is about to walk away, Elmer holds him captive at gunpoint. Some of Michael Maltese's witty dialogue springs into action. When Elmer informs Bugs of his criminal charges, he grabs out a list that depicts his offences. Many of his offences include: "Traffic violation, going through a boulevard stop, jaywalking, etc." which of course, all comes underneath 'traffic violation'.

As much as I appreciate and respect Michael Maltese, admittedly the scenes of Bugs Bunny disguising himself as a ranger, feels somewhat forced in writing and delivery. Bugs' quick masquerade feels out of nowhere, but not in the kind that works as a gag.

Bugs inspects Elmer, and criticises his appearance. He berates: "Why, look at you! You call yourself a mountie! You're a disgrace to the regiment. I'm gonna drum you out of the soivace!" And so, Bugs proceeds to strip off all of Elmer's uniform, piece by piece.

It gets so where he goes too far and accidentally strips his underwear; which is thankfully censored in a close-up shot of Bugs. Fine direction from the man Freleng. As Elmer went through a fat phase, it appears that a potential running gag for the character floated around. Seen previously in The Wacky Wabbit, Elmer is once again seen wearing a corset. This time, Bugs tugs at Elmer's corset; causing his stomach to compress. Bugs runs off, leaving Elmer to almost leave his clothes as he chases after him.

However, there are many scenes that stay true to Bugs' personality. A striking example appears in the snowman sequence. Elmer is on the lookout for Bugs after an exhaustive chase sequence. He hears Bugs' cackling off-screen.

The camera pans to Bugs pretending to belittle a snowman figure of Elmer. He cackles, "You can't catch me. Why you couldn't even catch a cold. " Elmer slowly creeps up behind Bugs, but at the right moment Bugs socks Elmer from behind.

This leaves Elmer to crash at a wall of ice; with the crash from his rear end forming a love heart. Despite a slow start, Friz's professional timing pays off in the punch scene. The timing and delivery of the gag is so believable it speaks for itself. Other great sequences which pays off with Bugs' personality is him mimicking as Elmer's rifle. Blanc captures the delivery of the gun clicking noises right down to the frame. As Elmer responds, "No more bullets"; Bugs kisses Elmer on the cheek before he leaves.

Freleng takes some golden opportunities to explore with his timing during the chase sequences. Despite some great gags that fit the tone of the short, the action scenes feel a tad overdone in length. The animation of Bugs casually kicking snow into Elmer's face as he runs shows spirit and fluidity in the animation.

Then there is the kind of corny gags which are thrown into for laughs. One example being the Christmas tree gag. Bugs is almost completely covered in snow, and his ears separate as he approaches a tree. As Elmer follows, he crashes the tree, causing the snow to drop and revealing an Xmas tree.

Freleng's timing is really revealing during the scene of Bugs and Elmer frantically dashing through a hill of snow, and their figures align together like a paper chain. The sudden appearance of a womanly figure appearing is hysterically subtle, especially for its unpredictability and the nonsense of it. The gag ends when Elmer strikes at a rock...with Bugs painting the figures to trick him.

After a series of failed attempts, Elmer breaks to the ground, bawling out: "I'm a disgwace to the wegiment!". As he tries, Mike Maltese tries a tactic to fool the audience. Bugs Bunny steps in the scene, supposedly feeling sympathy for Elmer and is willing to give himself in to Elmer. The audience are aware Bugs has one last trick for Elmer, but the trick remains ambiguous until the last scene.

Bugs willingly lets his hands out for Elmer to arrest him, "No, go ahead, snap 'em on!" Elmer cuffs Bugs at that moment, with Bugs being so willing he marches to the mountie prison, with Elmer struggling to keep at his pace. The march gives Bugs some extra character, particularly his determination to fool Elmer once more.

The following scene establishes that Bugs is sentenced to be executed for his many crimes (and yes, especially for "jaywalking"). He is blindfolded, and the firing squad are ready. Elmer orders: "Before you die, you can make one wast wish!". Prolonging the execution, Bugs takes advantage of Elmer's words; where he throws away his carrot and wonders. He thinks, "Let me see now, um..I wish, um...I wish, um". At that moment, he breaks into song singing I Wish I Was in Dixie, leaving Elmer and the firing squad puzzled. Without doubt, the funniest sequence in the whole short; as if the short led up to that one gag. Mike's clever play-on with words, as well as the spontaneity of the scene makes it work out. As the scene fades to the final shot; Bugs is granted his wish...adding more hysteria into the gag. The scene depicts Bugs, Elmer, and supposedly the firing squad all dressed in blackface; in a Southern setting continuing their song. Bugs breaks into camera, "Fantastic, isn't it?" as they continue to sing the last note.

For a new Bugs Bunny installment to the Warner Bros. library, Fresh Hare has a combination of sluggish pacing, and yet, spiritual and great spontaneity. The first half of the short suffers a bit with padding, particularly for scenes which are given more length than necessary. Not to mention, a little bit of weak delivery on gags and dialogue; as seen in the bomb and ranger-disguised sequence. By the second half of the short, the pace and classic Warner style kick into gear, as Freleng's timing stays sharp. However, the chase sequences feel like it dominates a lot of the short's screen time. Admittedly, some of them do pay off: especially the scene of Bugs dashing into the show, creating a woman figure. Michael Maltese's wit and unique approach to gags only really kick in during the final sequence, whereas the unpredictable, free and easy approach to delivery appears to be lacking in the short. In all, the short is "so-so".

Rating: 2.5/5.


  1. (1) "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" is probably being used sarcastically, in this context, given the use of Hitler.

    (2) The "Mounted Police Gazette" is a spoof of the "National Police Gazette," a tabloid that specialized (in the 1940s) in cheesecake pictures of girls and scandal and crime.

    (3) As noted elsewhere, the "fat" Fudd was an attempt to bring the character closer to the physique of the man who voiced him, Arthur Q. Bryan. This would be abandoned not long after this cartoon was released.

    (4) The "Camptown Races" gag at the end is usually censored; ironically, your comment about the "wish" being the best way to end the cartoon is usually how it's presented.

    (5) WB would have a few more "blackface" cartoons (like Jones' Angel Puss, or Freleng's Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears, or the end gag in "Bacall to Arms"), but for the most part, the blackface gags started to die out around this time.

  2. With all the airbrush work and lettering, could Paul Julian have done the backgrounds?

    I was watching a home-shopping cable channel in the early '90s, and they had up for sale a VHS tape full of cartoons, including this one. The excerpt they showed was the closing gag, complete with "Dixie" and blackface. When the camera went back to the presenters, they were laughing and acting like it was the funniest thing they ever saw (in their job to sell the merchandise), but a bit of uneasiness could be detected in their faces.

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